If You Would Just Let Go

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Stress is something that imprisons most people in this society. I see it everywhere. I’ve been to hockey games, which are supposed to be fun, and I see people that are agitated while they’re getting food or otherwise exhibiting an all around edginess. I’ve been to hockey games, and I’ve been stressed because my mind isn’t there; it’s jumping clear ahead to things that are not even close to being in the future yet, such as meeting people and finding people in college and getting a guy, etc. At school, everyone feels pressure to perform and meet some sort of expectations, whether their own or of others.

It’s really a sad thing we’ve got going in this society.

Nobody knows how to enjoy life as God intends for us to. While the world can be a stressful place and is full of sin, I don’t think a lot of people realize that it’s not actually what God wants for us to push ourselves deeper into it and let it rule our lives, thoughts, and attitudes. Just the opposite, really.

I’m not always good at this, but what God has shown me when He has helped me be at peace and witness others who are not is that I can’t keep quiet about the secrets to peace and how being this stressed and negative is not worth it. It’s really not. Negativity is one of those things we seldom comprehend we’re even doing until it becomes a habit, and that habit ends up defining how we think and view the world, thus influencing us to act that way and not be able to enjoy anything or appreciate the fact that God has freed us from that way of thinking.

It needs to change. As a Christian, I feel I have the responsibility to set an example of this change. When I am just as negative as my peers who are not following Jesus or are not surrendered to Him, that’s an issue. It says a lot about how my relationship with God is going and that I need to get my attention back to Him because I’ve been spending too much time immersed in the worldly ideals and not what He tells me to focus on, which is to be renewed by my mind, not feel depressed like the rest of the world and dwell on everything that’s wrong.

There really is such a simple fix, though, one that God says repeatedly throughout the Bible: just let go. Let Him take care of and fight the battles. He promises He will (Exodus 14:14).

I try to fight way too hard. I know that. I don’t want to wrestle with God, though, as it’s the quickest way to lose your peace and inherently pointless because His plans are much better anyways. Our perspective is so limited, and there have been many times where I’m reminded of just how little I really do know about what He’s doing in my life. It’s a humbling, reassuring reminder. It shows me I don’t know all He’s doing, and it is more than I can imagine, and He is obviously handling it even when I’m not conscious or aware of it. Isn’t that an amazing thought? And it is TRUE. If you are surrendering your life to Him, He is always fighting on your behalf. The God of the universe. Wow. You can’t be stressed or depressed when you meditate on that. You may not see solutions or how things are coming together or how they will be. But He does, and He promises to take care of you.

If you would just let go, you’d know this, and it’s the most reassuring, beautiful feeling. That moment of total surrender, of knowing He’s got you. You can have it right now. Even if you don’t “feel” it, believe it anyways. Life is not dependent on our emotions, and if we want any lasting joy, we cannot think based on our circumstances, stresses, or anything else along those lines.

If we want true peace, we have to focus on the only source of peace, God Himself (Isaiah 9:6). Let everything else go. Put the other thoughts to rest. God knows your every thought, and He’s more than capable of taking care of your battles without your trying to stress about it yourself. He’ll give you the insight, the solutions, when you need them. In the meantime, believe that He is already doing it. Because He really is, people.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in wanting the control, of wanting our way. But God knows what you want, and He promises the best. Life is only found in Him, not through the things you want, so place your life in Him, and anything else that comes is ultimately going to point you back to Him and how good He is.

If you would just let go, I can promise you from so much trial and error that that’s where true life is found. God never designed us to dictate our own lives and plans. We can’t do it all anyhow. We are designed to follow His lead. If you would just let go, He’ll take over. He’ll give you His perfect peace. And He’ll give you true joy and abundant life, no matter what (John 10:10; 16:33). The world thinks this is impossible, that being depressed and filled with despair and anxiety is the norm. And under sin, it absolutely is. But if you would just let go, it never has to keep you down in life. Ever. Jesus enables us to be the most peaceful, joyful people because He Himself is those things. And if you would just let go…

He’ll bless you with those special gifts also.

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How God Worked in 2016

2016 was . . . hard. I'll just be honest about that. It was hard in a good sort of way, though, because with God, no trial is pointless, and no pain is meaningless (Romans 5:3). In my 2015 recap post, my first sentence was "2015 was amazing." 2015 had so many fun times, and yes it did have trials, but through each of those trials it was pretty evident how God was working.

But 2016 wasn't exactly like that. 2016 was all about perseverance because this year, there were fun times, but there were trials. Recurring trials. And this time, it wasn't so evident what God was doing or if He was even doing anything at all. So this year I learned patience! Yay! Every Christian's favorite thing to learn is patience. Not. Ugh, I hate patience. I absolutely hate it. God so help me, and He has been. I hate waiting. I hate not seeing results. I hate having to be patient. So that's maybe one reason why this year was so hard; I had to wait on God. A ton.

But this year was super memorable for me because of all God has showed and revealed to me through the waiting. No waiting is meaningless (Isaiah 40:31). I learned so much about my identity in Christ this year and how God sees other people. I learned about what my spiritual strengths are and got some new ideas for ministry I want to pursue later in life. And I am thankful for that. I know this year has been crucial for my maturity as a Christian, and so I'm incredibly thankful for that. Let's go over it!

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January

With a new year beginning, I set some yearly goals. I started putting together ideas for which book I wanted to start next, and I sent out a survey to help me determine that. I learned a lot more about my identity in blogging, and I shared some thoughts I had. In January I had to finish school basketball, which brought drama to my life, but even those memories are sweet to me because they'll mark a last, last time I played organized basketball. That's one door I definitely think is shut, and I'm more than okay with that. I want to pursue these three things: writing, blogging, and ministry/social work. I'm excited for high school because I'll get to start taking classes based on my interests.

Being a light has always been my life motto, and it's our purpose as Christians. I shared why I think that here.

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February

My birthday month, yay! I officially became a teenager. I never really understood teenagers when they said these three words describe their life: food, Netflix, sleep.

Well I get it now needless to say.

For my birthday, I got to attend an Iowa Wild hockey game, and the next day I got Uggs! #YearMade. I worked on some church projects, which was so much fun to do as I got to grow in my faith. My grandmas got me playing Cookie Jam for awhile, and I was doing pretty good!

I began cleaning up my finished book and wrote a post over some things I learned about fulfilling dreams. I blogged about what God taught me about feeling alone, because I started feeling that way more. I got baptized!

Towards the end of February and through the beginning of March, I got my yearly cold and was definitely tired of the actual cold weather. I got a new pair of rain boots that got me really excited for spring!

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March

I went on my first ever church retreat and absolutely loved it!! Read all about that here! I got to go spring shopping and bought lots of new spring clothes. I totally finished editing my book over spring break.

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April

I went to my last hockey game of the year. I wrote about sticking up for your faith and living for Jesus no matter what. I compiled a post of all my best tips for telling others about Jesus, as I did that a lot my seventh grade school year. I read BRUSH OF WINGS by Karen Kingsbury, the conclusion in the awesome ANGELS WALKING SERIES, and I wrote about it because it was truly a wonderful book. I also shot my first turkey!!

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May

In May, well, I really had to persevere through the end of school because let's just say I was more than ready to be done and have a break. A lot happened in terms of friends and being lonely and sticking up for my faith, and school is already stressful enough without that added drama, so I had to cling to God more than ever and just get through the month. I blogged about all of that here. My mom and I worked on redoing my room, and it started looking how I'd dreamed of it! I started going to church classes with my mom on Wednesday, and those were always the highlights of my week, diving into the Word and talking deep about Jesus with some Spirit-filled, awesome people that always encouraged me just enough to get me through another week of loneliness at school.

We started preparing for our trip to Canada, and Dad took us to Fuzzy's in Des Moines! That place is awesome. Dad sure knows how to find some amazing restaurants over there. I went to the races with Dad once, too.

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June

I wrote about my persevering thoughts. I set some summer goals. We went to the Blank Park Zoo, which was lots of fun! Summer came, and I was so excited. We ate out a lot, relaxed on our deck and talked about life . . . then we went to Canada! Read parts one, two, and three of our trip here!

Oh, on the way home from Canada, I'm writing this before I forget and I'll elaborate more on this in a later post, I learned about the unforgivable sin. That was the scariest thirty minutes of my entire life learning what it was and if I'd committed it. Now, long story short, if you don't know what that is and are freaked out, let me just say that's good. That's good you're freaked out about it because you haven't committed it then. Repent and believe in Jesus and you will be saved. I'll tell more about that later, though.

I kept attending my Wednesday classes, and one day I wrote about it! Then I got to go up to see my Gramps and Grams for two weeks. The first day I came up we had a lot of fun discussing our plans, and we went downtown to listen to some singing and browse the farmer's market. I tried Diet Dr. Pepper. That marked a first and more importantly a last. You'd rather have calories than poison, people. Trust me. Grams and I also went walking downtown to go visit one of her friends in the nursing home, and we had some great life talks.

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July

The next day we went to Okoboji and did some shopping. We ate at the Spirit Lake Dairy Queen, which is awesome. And then Gramps and I went for bikes rides! He got a new bike! It's a beautiful pale purple, and it rode so smoothly. We all went out to eat at Godfather's later that night, too. Then my cousin came up for a day, and we had a blast taking pictures (she's the only person I have in my life who understands the importance of photographing your food and literally just about everything else because ya do it for the blog, people), riding bikes, and going to Fareway and buying Dr. Pepper. They had a #pickyourpepper thing, and I picked out the prettiest Dr. Pepper ever. And yes I did too take a picture of it, deal with it. I posted some amusing Snapchat videos that night staying up late with Grams (add me on Snapchat "ashleestaerk" for all of that).

We rented movies the next day. We watched THE LAST SONG, a movie I'd already seen, for three main reasons: 1) Liam Hemsworth is HOT, 2) It has an inspiring message, and 3) It's maybe the only romance movie I've seen that doesn't have a love scene in it, and yes I went there because in today's culture that's all but impossible to find, so hats off to it.

We celebrated the Fourth of July by going over to (a) Casey's (FOR THE DONUTS, and guess what, they had PINK and BLUE frosted donuts for the holiday!!!) and (b) Spirit Lake and snagged an awesome, secluded spot to see the fireworks going off at the Lakes. Someone also honked at Gramps as he was turning, which was hilarious, mainly because of his response ("Don't honk at me you fool" and "I'm turning, ya moron"). Never a dull moment with him, people. I also wrote about some things I learned when celebrating that holiday here.

My cousins came up, and we lit sparklers, went back to Okoboji and shopped 'til we dropped, and I learned a lot about getting my happiness only from God that month. We had fun taking vlogs! We did the Bean Boozle Challenge! Guys, one day I just may start a vlogging channel, and it would be great. That's the first video I'd upload!!

We went to the Swinging Bridge and had some memorable, FUN times there!! We had a garage sale, and Gramps, Jacob and I went for truck rides. I love love love those. I wrote another letter to my future husband, and I shared a lot of what God taught me over the summer.

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August

In August, I didn't do anything real productive. I learned the importance of being still, though, and knowing God. We went to Knoxville Nationals as a family one night, and much money spent later... It was great. I got a new phone!! Welcome my new child into the world. It's a beautiful, healthy pink iPhone 6s. We went to the State Fair. There were, like, ridiculous amounts of people for what? There was three things there, mainly: rides, animals, and food. Who knew that could attract so many people?

School started up. I wrote a prayer over eighth grade, based on what I learned over the summer.

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September

In September we went to Rube's Steakhouse, which is awesome. I got mini corn dogs because I felt like it, and they were great! Yes, I'm that girl who orders mini corn dogs at a steakhouse. I'm also that girl who wears flip flops or white tennis shoes to the races. I make my family proud.

My mom and I participated in the Bible Reading Marathon at our nearby courthouse, and of all the 66 books in the Bible we could possibly get to read, what do Mom and I get?! Chronicles. All those names you never knew how to pronounce and killed by trying. We came, and we totally nailed it. That was fun, and we got to chat with the people from our church.

I had cross country, and gosh, that sport. I hate it. I like running on my own terms. Like. Running. In the same sentence. That's funny. I prefer walking. And I got to walk, too. We walked down by our nearby lake while Hunter played that Pokemon crap.

In terms of blogging, I wrote four letters over four essential topics of Christianity to whoever reads them. So I wrote them to YOU. See them here, here, here, and here.

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October

Over those few months, I started having a growing interest in prison ministry. I've always wanted to help people and go into some sort of ministry, and prison ministry has really intrigued me, and I really have a desire to go into it. I won't say for certain that it's what I'll go into, but it's definitely a great thing and much needed. I want to go into some sort of ministry sometime in my life, and I'm really into studying psychological things, and I can't wait to do that in high school. That will help me a lot in ministry. Anyway, I blogged about prison ministry and my thoughts on that here.

Otherwise, October was pretty uneventful. I ate out a lot with my mom. I worked on some projects God had laid on my heart that I hoped I could eventually reach out to someone with.

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November

November was pretty uneventful too. God opened up some doors for me to connect with some people I really am grateful for, so I know He's been providing for my needs, even despite the loneliness I feel this school year. I did a lot of reading. I've been rereading Karen Kingsbury's Baxter family series. I first read those in fifth grade. I think that was way too soon due to the subject content, but again, I am a girl with little to no patience. And on the bright side, I think that really helped me mature so yeah. . . . The series is great, though. I understand them a lot better since I'm older, and God has been laying so much on my heart through them. I pray I can write like that one day. God also opened up the door for me to reach out to someone, and I was so incredibly thankful I could do that.

I blogged about my thoughts over if life is beautiful. I spent Thanksgiving break with my grandparents. I loved every minute of that. I also started getting impatient towards the end of November. Impatient over my circumstances, why God wouldn't change things, if He ever would. . . . I started learning the importance of being totally real with God. For so long I've always filtered what I said to Him out of fear, but God wants total intimacy with me. He already knows how I feel anyway. Once I realized I could tell God literally anything, it was the most liberating thing. He is such an amazing God, to desire that intimacy.

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December

In December I got really upset a lot in the beginning of the month. Between circumstances I watched and stress from school and maybe hormones, too, I don't know. I just felt down a lot. But one day it was really cool because I was so depressed I didn't even know how I was going to survive my school day. So I just told God, "You're going to have to give me the strength because there's no way I'm getting through this day on my own." By first period, it was amazing, because I did. I felt this supernatural strength, and with it came peace about all the hurt in my life, and with it came joy nothing could take away. Nothing can explain the supernatural joy God gives me. I could never not believe in God, based on just that alone. There's no other way to explain the strength I got that day. I know for a fact it was totally God and the prayers from my mom and grandma.

I got to ditch school one day and go with Hunter to one of his doctor appointments in Des Moines. We praise God that so far he's still healthy. We got to go bowling afterwards. I also made a new public Instagram account just for this blog and my mission (follow me @sparklesbyashlee), and I have a private account too for my photos and what God is doing in my life. I'll let you guys follow me though, so request to follow my private account @ashleestaerk for behind the scenes and life updates. I also joined Snapchat again!! Add me "ashleestaerk"! We also went to Jolly Holiday Lights as a family in Des Moines and tried to find a place to eat (there was literally no place to walk in Jethro's).

We had a nice little Christmas. I got a lot of books which I'm already almost done with! I got a lot of pretty sweaters and some other clothes, as well as a new winter coat I'm in LOVE with! We also went to see Rogue One as a family. It was really good!! And now I'm at Gramps and Grams' again, and I've loved spending time with them.

So I've learned a lot, and I promised I'd recap everything specifically God taught me, so stay tuned for that! I'm praying you all have a healthy and joyful 2017 and grow a lot. I plan to keep spreading sparkle and keep loving Jesus. He is faithful. That is totally true and was definitely evident this year for me. No matter what, He is the bread of life (John 6:35). Regardless of how your year was, or what your next year will be like, that will always be true. So in any circumstance that may come up, go to Him, and you will, in fact, have a rich 2017.

How God Worked in 2015

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2015 was amazing. It had many trials I never saw coming, but it also had a lot of moments where I saw God working that I didn't see coming. Let's go over it, shall we?

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January

I moved my blog to Squarespace. That was the best decision EVER! Squarespace is an amazing company, they're easy to use, I mean it, God was looking out for me there by having me switch over. It's truly made my blogging journey so much easier. I also finished my book in December, so I had that to start working on.

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February

I finished my 2014 basketball season and opened up about some thoughts I had with it. That was the first real time I was completely honest about something super controversial on my blog, and I love those posts.

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March

I chatted with you all about my writing progress. I was almost done revising and was going to begin editing. I knew God had a plan, and I still believe that with my writing.

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April

I went to a few hockey games, and I fell in love with hockey! I also wrote about the time I truly believe I encountered an angel! Last but not least, I opened up about some honest thoughts I had towards school. There seemed to be a good reaction to those honest posts, and it only boosted my confidence in blogging and sharing my story! It was also really neat to reflect on those thoughts later on. I truly believe that God wants me to be blogging, and I saw that more and more throughout the year.

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May

My family went on an incredible trip to Orlando, Florida for my brother, Hunter, and his wish! He has cystic fibrosis, so Make-A-Wish granted him a wish! He chose to swim with dolphins, and we also got a VIP tour at SeaWorld, passes to the Disney parks, and we went deep sea fishing (we payed for that, it was on our free day). I thought it was perfect for Hunter since he really loves animals. It was so cool to see the dolphins and have our first real family vacation. The trip really inspired me to be thankful for this life. Read all about it here!

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June

That summer, I worked really hard at reading more devotionals and getting closer to the Lord, I was working harder at figuring out my blogging brand, and I began editing my book after finishing revising! I shared all of that news here.

I also LOVED walking my dog "doog" Willy, and there is a gravel road by me that I just ADORE! This post tells you why and some of that fun.

At the end of June, I wrote a letter to a special someone...Prince Charming or my future husband! Then I went to Okoboji to Arnold's Park and got some photos for my headshots - thanks Gramps and Grams! June was a month full of dreams, family, and summer fun!

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July

July was a little more intense but still a great month. First off, I came out and blogged about why I do everything with writing and blogging. I stayed two weeks with my Gramps and Grams who seriously are awesome, and I wrote a recap of it!

Towards the end of July, that's when something happened with one of my parents' job, and I never saw it coming. For some reason, it just never crossed my mind that what went wrong would go wrong. I was petrified at first, but then I remembered what God had been teaching me all summer. Now that I think about it, I really think He was trying to prepare me for that moment. I never thought it would make my family closer than what we were. I actually thought, OH MY GOSH!!! WE'RE GOING TO DIE!!! (I think that when the air smells different or when I see a bee, though, so what does that tell you... You don't have to call me a drama queen *MOM*, you could just call me "over cautious" why don't ya?! The bees sting, and it could HURT!!!)

Anyway, we did come together, and I did have faith that the Lord would help us. We went to the races at Knoxville, one of our favorite things, and I wrote about its awesomeness. I also wrote about how racing ties in with life.

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August

Based on everything I learned over the summer, I wrote one big post on why I truly believe it's a beautiful life. It's not full of sappy stuff, either. It's the real truth. I always try to make sure I'm keeping it real but also incorporating the hope of Jesus. I think God has helped me do that.

Towards the end of August, it was time for me to begin my 7th grade school year. I did something I hadn't posted before: I wrote a prayer about the school year.

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September

I didn't get to blog much in September because the computer I got from school WAS CRAP, and it took awhile before I got a new one. I eventually wrote about something very important to me: showing your faith.

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October

I finished cross country, I took lots of pretty pictures, I wrote about starting basketball (and a basketball wish list!), and I wrote about entering a writing contest. See it all here!

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November

Basketball started up, and I wrote a letter to myself about it.

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December

I finished revising and editing my book, so I began the final critiques. I also shared my entire journey of finishing my first novel. Then I wrote a post I knew I needed to about why I believe in God. Those were only basic reasons and only my top five. I plan to do many more posts over the science behind God. I read lots of different articles and books this year to educate myself, and I'm not stopping there.

I also discovered what Christmas is about, since our entire generation had me confused. I thought it was the red cups from Starbucks, I mean come on! 

It was a GREAT year, and God is so amazing. I'm going to give Him even more glory and sparkles in 2016, just you wait!!! Thank you bunches for tuning in, I'd love to see your year in review! Leave a comment below!